New York City’s Ad Astra caught my attention at the 2018 Progtoberfest in Chicago. Progressive rock (especially the instrumental kind) can be seen by some musicians as an open invitation to indulge themselves, playing every note they can as they do so. The reason Ad Astra intrigued me is because they did the polar opposite. Their songs were melodic, economical and tasteful. They were also pretty heavy. In fact, I found myself thinking that I was listening to a slightly heavier version of legendary guitarist Eric Johnson. The guitarist I was actually listening to was the band’s leader, Joe Nardulli.
When we spoke after the show, Nardulli cited Johnson as one of his musical influences, along with Joe Satriani and others. He and his bandmates — keyboardist Eric Davis, bassist Harold Skeete, and drummer Tony Savasta — are experienced musicians who understand the importance of putting the song above all else. That tunefulness has allowed Ad Astra to release two albums (they are currently working toward a third) and to establish themselves as a go-to band in the American northeast, where they have opened for bass legend Stu Hamm, played the ProgDay International Festival, performed at the renowned My Father’s Place on Long Island, and taken up residency at the New Jersey ProgHouse. If not for day jobs and family obligations, Ad Astra might be very well taking its music around the world on a regular basis. Such is the life of the modern musician.
Joe Nardulli took time from his very hectic schedule and answered Seven Questions from CirdecSongs.
CirdecSongs: What sparked your interest in music, and ultimately led you to play guitar?
Joe Nardulli: My parents always had music playing in the house; Sinatra, Pavarotti, Streisand and the like. In the 5thgrade my school offered a guitar class, so I picked it up and started getting into it. I took a few years of private lessons but ultimately ended up teaching myself from listening to players I liked. I was a bookworm in school, so guitar always took a back seat to my engineering studies. I didn’t take guitar seriously until I graduated college and had a full-time job. Once I had my studies/career settled, I spent my free time trying to get better on the instrument.
How do you describe Ad Astra’s approach to music?
I’m really a “song” guy; I love strong melodies and great arrangements. That is the ultimate focus. However, the ideas I come up with always seem to involve shifting odd-time grooves and interesting chord changes, so the music has a distinct “Progressive” vibe. I also like to keep the music “moving,” keeping the groove going and the compositions focused, so the listener stays engaged. Because melody and arrangement are paramount, the result (I hope) is a strong song with enough Prog insanity to satisfy the discriminating listener, while perking up the ears of those who aren’t necessarily fans of Progressive Rock.
What do you enjoy most about playing with your band mates?
We’ve been blessed enough to not only find great players to perform this music with, but who are also great people. There’s nothing like typical band drama to ruin a good situation, and luckily there’s none of that in Ad Astra. We have a great time rehearsing, writing and performing together. The road trips for travel gigs are always fun. With our hectic work and family responsibilities, we don’t get to practice as often as we’d like, but when the gig comes around, we are always prepared and perform our best. We enjoy a great sense of camaraderie that allows us to focus on the music.
What’s the greatest challenge involved in presenting your music?
Well, four words: “Original Instrumental Progressive Rock (laughs)!” It’s really tough getting good gigs because the genre isn’t that popular, then throw in the fact that there are no vocals; on top of that, it’s original music. Clubs typically want to book us on a Tuesday night, and (then) wonder why nobody shows up. With cover/tribute acts getting all the good weekend slots, it makes it difficult to attract a new audience to our music. Luckily, we’ve made enough of an impression in the “Progressive Rock” world to get some really good gigs at festivals that cater to the genre. We performed at the ProgDay Festival in 2016 and Progtoberfest in 2018, allowing us to get good exposure to those who never heard of us before. We’ve also done a few shows at the New Jersey ProgHouse that have been great with getting a new audience.
Tell me about your current and/or future projects?
Ad Astra is the only musical project I’ve got going right now. We have some cool gigs lined up in late-summer with the amazing French Prog/Fusion band MÖRGLBL. Those guys are smokin’! We are psyched to do a few shows with them in the northeast for their upcoming U.S. tour. We continue to write music for a new album. We have about five songs written, two of which are in the current set. Hopefully we can get recording later this year. With our job/family responsibilities, teenagers in college, aging parents to take care of, etc., it’s been difficult for us to find the time to get the writing & recording process going for a new album.
What is the most important thing listeners can get from your music?
I’ve always felt that our music imparts a positive, uplifting vibe. As I said, I like to engage the listener with strong melodies and interesting arrangements. I would hope that they walk away feeling good! Also, this is difficult music to perform, with an audience that demands excellence and a high degree of proficiency on your instrument, so it would also be cool if people walked away thinking, “Those guys can play!”
Who would you love to collaborate with, or have play one of your compositions?
My two favorite overall musicians are Simon Phillips and Virgil Donati, both drummers! But, more importantly, they are drummers who also compose great music. I would absolutely love to write music with them. That would be a dream come true.
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